The first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs isn’t quite over yet with one game-seven remaining tonight with the Washington Capitals hosting the Carolina Hurricanes. Lots of teams already know who their opponent for the second round will be, and we found out Monday night that it would be Blues vs. Stars.
Both of these teams failed to make the playoffs this time last year, but they’re both back and through to the second round, but how did they get here?
The St. Louis Blues were dead last in the league on Jan. 2. Since then, they managed to go on a 10-game win streak in February and move into a wildcard position. Ironically, it was the Stars that ended that amazing run. They continued to win as the season winded down and were competing for first place in the Central on the final day of the season. The Blues ended up third in the Central, meaning they got to take on the second place Winnipeg Jets on the road in the first round. Five of those six games were decided by only a one goal margin.
I made a prediction in my last article that had the Blues going on in six, and what do you know, I was right. Although, it didn’t go exactly how I thought it would have.
The Blues opened the series back on April 10 with a close 2-1 win. The first goal of the series was given to one of the fastest and most skilled players in the NHL, Patrik Laine, seven minutes into the game. No goals were scored in the second period which shaped the game to have a terrific ending period of play. A little over four minutes into the third period, David Perron got his first goal to tie the game. With 3:05 left in the game, Tyler Bozak silenced the “White Out” Winnipeg crowd with the eventual game winning goal to take a 1-0 series lead.
St. Louis went on to win game two 4-3, but let the Jets tie the series back up in dramatic fashion. It clearly wasn’t the Blues’ night in game three 6-3, but the same couldn’t be said for game four. It was a scoreless first two periods thanks to terrific goaltending from both sides. Rookie sensation Jordan Binnington for the Blues and Connor Hellebuyck for the Jets, both goalies played all six games. The deadlock was broken 35 seconds into the third period with Vladimir Tarasenko’s second goal of the series, but Mark Scheifele tied it up seven minutes later and that’s how the game ended after regulation. The game before was now over and it was time for sudden death overtime. Kyle Connor scored for the Jets to break every Blues fan’s heart inside the Enterprise Center in downtown St. Louis and tie the series at 2-2.
It seemed like the Jets were going to take a 3-2 series lead after scoring in the first 12 seconds of game five back in Winnipeg and doubling their lead to 2-0 at the end of the first. No goals were scored in the second which meant the Blues were in need of one big comeback. Ryan O’Reilly scored 1:29 into the third with a powerplay goal to cut the lead in half and give Blues fans hope. Brayden Schenn scored his first goal of the series to tie the game at 2-2 in the 13th minute, but the scoring wasn’t done yet. With 15 seconds left in the game, Bozak made a desperation pass towards the net right onto the stick of Jaden Schwartz who redirected/tipped it into the back of the net to go up 3-2 in the game and the series.
It was on to game six, and the Blues could clinch it at home. This time it was the Blues off to a quick start when Schwartz carried over that momentum from game five to score just 23 seconds into the game. He picked up another one in the second to double the lead and send the Enterprise Center into a frenzy. Nearly four minutes into the third period, Schwartz scored yet again to make it 3-0 and complete his hattrick. Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little scored for Winnipeg to make it 3-2 and get the crowd on edge, but the Blues hung on to make it through to the second round, winning the series 4-2.
That’s how St. Louis got there, but what about Dallas? They ended the season as the first wildcard in the Western Conference which meant they had to take on the Central Division Champions, the Nashville Predators. The Preds have made it to the playoffs for the past five straight seasons, including a run to the Stanley Cup Finals where they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins four games to two.
I predicted this series would go all seven with Nashville coming out on top, but I was wrong; it only took Dallas six. Four of them were decided by one goal and two in overtime. This series was back-and-forth as everyone expected it to be.
The series opened in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena, one of the toughest places to play on the road, but Dallas managed to come out victorious. Roman Josi scored the first goal of the series to give the Preds a 1-0 lead 12 minutes in and they took that lead into the locker room. Dallas scored three straight goals to take a 3-1 lead with goals coming from Miro Heiskanen, Alexander Radulov and Mats Zuccarello. P.K. Subban scored the final goal of the game but the Stars hung on to a 3-2 win to take a 1-0 series lead.
Nashville won the next two games, game two in overtime 2-1 and game three 3-2 in Dallas. Dallas bounced back in a huge way to tie the series at 2-2 with an impressive 5-1 win at home. The series headed back to Nashville tied 2-2. Dallas won game five 5-3 with two goals coming from Radulov to take a 3-2 series lead.
Dallas was now in the same position as St. Louis, they could clinch the series at home in game six. Austin Watson broke the tie six minutes into the game to give Nashville a 1-0 lead and silence the Dallas crowd. Blake Comeau scored for the Stars five minutes into the second period to tie the game at 1-1. The third period saw some fantastic back-and-forth action, but no goals, which meant overtime. If the Stars were going to clinch, they were going to have to work for it. John Klindberg finally broke the tie with only three minutes left in overtime to win the game 2-1 and clinch the series 4-2.
Both teams battled hard to get here, but what makes this matchup between the Stars and Blues so good? The history. The last time these two met up in the playoffs was in the second round back in the 2015-2016 season. The Blues won the series 4-3 to move on to the Conference Finals where they lost to the San Jose Sharks 4-2. St. Louis was led by former captain David Backes’ four goals and four assists in that series and were backed by goaltender Brian Elliot.
Head to head this season, Dallas is 3-1 against the Blues, outscoring 13-7. The last regular season game between these two, Jamie Benn recorded a hattrick in a 4-1 win for the Stars.
Dallas’ first line of Jamie Benn (one goal, five assists), Tyler Seguin (two goals, four assists) and Alexander Radulov (four goals, two assists) have obviously played very well when you look at those statistics. The Blues’ first line Schenn, O’Reilly and Tarasenko on the other hand, wasn’t all that. The Blues made a change to put David Perron on the first line in place of Schenn to give the first line a right-handed shot and they immediately looked better, especially on the power play.
The biggest reason both of these teams are here is because of their spectacular goalkeeping. I already mentioned Binnington for the Blues with a .908 save percentage and a 2.63 goals allowed average. They aren’t the fantastic stats that he recorded in the regular season in his quest for the Calder Trophy, but then again, this is the playoffs. On the other side of the ice stands Ben Bishop. He’s been playing out of his mind as of late, boasting a 1.89 GAA and a .945 save percentage. He only allowed 12 goals in six games while Binnington allowed 16. If it wasn’t for both of these goalies, I don’t think either team would be here in the second round.
That’s how they got here, and that’s how they match up. The Blues have home ice, but the schedule has not yet been released for the second round, so I have to sit and await a date. Until then all I can do is make my bold prediction: Blues in five.